VILLAGE OF NORTH AURORA
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE MEETING MINUTES
Monday, August 1, 2022
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Village Board meeting was conducted live remotely
CALL TO ORDER
Mayor Gaffino called the meeting to order.
In attendance: Mayor Mark Gaffino, Trustee Mark Carroll, Trustee Mark Guethle, Trustee Mike Lowery, Trustee Todd Niedzwiedz, Trustee Carolyn Salazar
Staff in attendance: Village Administrator Steve Bosco, Finance Director Jason Paprocki, Community & Economic Development Director Mike Toth, Village Attorney Kevin Drendel, Public Works Director John Laskowski, Police Chief Joe DeLeo.
1. Petition #22-04; Pharmacann Special Use
COMMUNITY & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR TOTH PRESENTATION-
Director Toth stated that item number one on the agenda for the evening was Petition #22-04; Pharmacann Special Use to relocate their medical and recreational use cannabis dispensary to 2080 West Orchard Road. Toth explained that medical cannabis dispensaries are classified as a permitted use in the B-2 General Business District, however adult use cannabis dispensaries (recreational cannabis sales) are classified as a special use in the B-2 District. The new proposed location 2080 West Orchard Road is located in the Orchard Commons B-2 General Business District Planned Unit Development. The building has already been approved although not yet constructed, the site use was the focus of the discussion. The comprehensive plan calls for regional commercial for that site.
Director Toth spoke about the Special Use process. He stated that anyone can file for a special use application. In any zone there are permitted uses, special uses and prohibited uses. Special Uses need to be processed accordingly. The Pharmacann Special Use application was submitted on June 6, 2022 then a Public Hearing was held and went before the Plan Commission on July 5, 2022. Toth stated that there were many that spoke during the Public Hearing and those comments are reflected in the Plan Commission Meeting Minutes dated July 5, 2022. Toth explained that a petition is then brought before the Village Board at a Committee Of the Whole meeting for discussion and then at a later date the petition goes before the Village Board for a vote.
Director Toth explained that the Village has rules in place for cannabis dispensaries. The dispensary must adhere to State of Illinois guidelines and the Village will only allow two dispensaries within the Village. The dispensary must have a 1,000 foot buffer between the establishment and any schools, parks, recreational centers, daycares, public libraries and gaming arcades. No consumption of cannabis is allowed on site. If there are two dispensaries within North Aurora, they are required to be 1,500 feet apart.
Director Toth displayed a map depicting the areas that the dispensary would and would not be allowed in accordance to the Village’s guidelines.
Director Toth stated that at the Public Hearing there were multiple residents from the Tanner Trails subdivision that spoke in regard to the proximity of the subdivision to the proposed dispensary site. Toth pointed out on the map that the closest home in the Tanner Trails subdivision was an approximate 1,400 feet to the site and the apartment complex, The Springs, was approximately 660 feet in distance.
Director Toth stated that within the Village there is a predetermined set of standards that serve as a guideline to follow in determining whether a Special Use is permissible. At the Plan Commission meeting on July 5, 2022, seven of the nine commissioners were in attendance. The Plan Commission voted and did not recommend approval of the Special Use. The commissioners that voted not to approve, cited three standards that they felt the proposed Special Use did not fulfill:
The proposed special use is deemed necessary for the public convenience at that location.
The proposed special use will not significantly diminish the safety, sue, enjoyment, and value of other property in the neighborhood in which it is located.
The proposed special use minimizes potentially dangerous traffic movements, and provides adequate and safe access to the site.
Director Toth mentioned that a concern brought up at the Public Hearing on July 5th was whether or not there was crime in association with the existing Verilife facility. Toth introduced North Aurora Police Chief Joe DeLeo to speak about the crime aspect.
Chief DeLeo stated that between the first call to Verilife on September 13, 2019 and present day, there had been 48 calls for service, of the 48 there were 11 reports generated and one arrest. DeLeo explained that further broken down, there were 14 calls for the Verilife alarm being activated, five calls were for vehicle lock outs, and seven were for parking/traffic control complaints.
Trustee Guethle asked Chief DeLeo for clarification and asked how he would categorize the service calls to Verilife. Chief DeLeo stated that the one arrest that was made was the result of an individual whom did not want to leave the premises, argued with an employee and took the employee’s iPad and fled. The individual was arrested down the road at Speedway.
Trustee Guethle asked if any arrests had been made due to illegal consumption of drugs or in any way related to Verilife’s products, DeLeo stated that there had not.
Katriina McGuire from Thompson Coburn, representing Pharmacann introduced the additional presenters on hand to present on behalf of Pharmacann.
Jeremy Unruh spoke about the history of Pharmacann within the Village of North Aurora as well as the state of Illinois. Unruh stated that the Verilife facility is one of only 55 medical marijuana dispensaries in Illinois and the only one in Kane County. He also explained that Pharmacann is the largest privately owned cannabis company in the United States. Unruh said that since 2015, the North Aurora Verilife dispensary has done more than a half of a million transactions and has generated 63 million dollars in sales, resulting in 1.5 million dollars in sales tax to North Aurora, 1.7 million dollars to Kane County, and eight million in general sales tax revenue.
Currently the North Aurora Verilife location has 25 full time employees, they envision adding five more employees in the proposed location. These are full time positions with benefits.
Mr. Unruh spoke about the dispensary’s clientele, stating that in regard to the adult use consumers, 63% are over the age of 35, slightly more men than women. Approximately half of the clientele have an income over $50,000 annually and a quarter of those people have an annual income over $100,000. In regard to medical patients, nearly all are over the age of 30, with an occasional pediatric patient. Approximately 60% are over the age of 50, with about a 50/50 break down of men to women.
Mr. Unruh then spoke about the company’s marketing and that it is targeted toward adults.
Unruh then spoke about the current facility and its inability to suit the evolving needs of Verilife and their clientele.
Unruh stated that the company had researched seventeen additional sites over the span of multiple years and due to restrictions they were left with this site location.
Monte Spiers, Senior Transaction Manager with Pharmacann spoke about their real estate relocation process within North Aurora. He explained that they began with 17 sites within the allowable zoning district of the Village, and the options narrowed to a couple of sites that would work for Pharmacann’s use. He stated that the proposed location at 2080 West Orchard Road would allow for a 1,550 square foot retail space and 12 point of sale stations to better serve customers. There will also be 24 dedicated parking spaces. He emphasized that the Verilife dispensary is a retail establishment and customer accessibility is important.
Luay Aboona with KLOA spoke about the traffic study. He stated that the location provides good access and can easily accommodate traffic from the proposed site. Aboona said that the traffic expected to be generated by the facility would be an increase of 2 to 2.5% and the 24 parking spaces would be more than adequate. He then spoke about how those estimates were reached.
Brandon Nemec, Government and Regulatory Affairs Associate Director with Pharmacann spoke about the comprehensive security protocols and plans the dispensary currently has and will continue at the proposed location. Nemec stated that protocols implemented originate from state law and regulations. He explained that the dispensary has four components, the first is the security personnel, internal staff that monitor the facility and perimeter. They also contract with a third party security agency on site. The second component is the comprehensive surveillance system. The third component is the building itself and the access controls that are inherent therein. This includes ID verifications, staff credential agent ID badge with a scan capability, product storage in regulated vaults and shatterproof windows. The last component is the alarm monitoring system.
Mr. Nemec spoke about and described the secured product deliveries.
Amy Germain, the District Manager for Verilife, spoke about the sourcing of products and the staff of the Verilife North Aurora dispensary. Ms. Germain also spoke about the general information regarding the facility, the facility’s hours, the fact that most purchase are made by preordering online and how the new proposed site and larger retail area could help facilitate a more expedient client experience.
Katriina McGuire addressed the Village Board once again, speaking about the three specific special use standards that were in question. She stated that medical cannabis dispensing was a permitted use, the item for discussion was the adult use aspect of the Verilife dispensary. Ms. McGuire stated that according to the Illinois Supreme Court, the two questions that the Board should be asking themselves in the decision making process are whether or not this proposal will have a significant adverse impact above and beyond the impact of an ordinary cannabis dispensary in this specific location as well as whether the applicant has designed the operation of the proposed dispensary in such a way to address any adverse impacts.
Ms. McGuire spoke about the first of the three standards that the Plan Commission had questioned in regard to the proposed special use, “the proposed special use is deemed necessary for the public convenience at that location”, she stated that the courts have interpreted that to not mean “absolutely necessary”, rather whether or not it is something that would be expedient or reasonably convenient to the public welfare.
McGuire then spoke about the standard “the proposed special use will not significantly diminish the safety, use, enjoyment, and value of other property in the neighborhood in which it is located.” She stated that what should be taken in to consideration here are things such as noise, hours of operation, traffic, security and safety. She stated that the operator in question is experienced and will stay consistent with state law as they have been operating within the Village of North Aurora for seven years.
The final standard that Ms. McGuire spoke about was “the proposed special use minimized potentially dangerous traffic movements, and provides adequate and safe access to the site”. She referred back to Luay Aboona’s traffic study that reflected that there would be no adverse impact on traffic.
Jeremy Unruh wrapped up the Pharmacann presentation by visually taking the Board through the current Verilife facility via photographs. He showed comparisons of the facility when they began sales of medical cannabis to the current state of the dispensary.
AUDIENCE COMMENTS – Mayor Gaffino opened the floor to public comment.
Albert Druzgala, 2888 McDuffee Circle, North Aurora stated that he has been a patron of the Verilife facility for seven years. He explained that the current facility at 161 S. Lincolnway was difficult to access for medical patients with mobility issues. He also expressed that more space for patients to sit and wait for their turn would be beneficial as well as more point of sale space to make the process more expedient. He stated that he lives in the neighboring subdivision and doesn’t have a concern about decreasing home values, and the tax revenue of the dispensary’s sales is a benefit.
William Passalaqua, 3S875 Deer Oak Road, North Aurora expressed his concern of the close proximity of the proposed site to his home. His concerns focused on the recreational sale of marijuana at the proposed location.
Parker Grabowski, 2S401 Creekside Court, Elburn spoke about his experience coming before the Village Board to open his businesses, Hardware and The Turf Room. He stated that he believed that Pharmacann has been a good partner to the Village and that the Verilife facility will be a good neighbor. Grabowski stated that he owns a lot of land surrounding the proposed location and is in favor of having the Verilife facility there. He said that Verilife already has a positive history with the Village and feels that the Village should continue to support them in their request to move.
Tim Worth, 800 Bennett Drive, North Aurora stated that he lives in close proximity to the proposed Verilife location. Bennett referred to the Pharmacann presentation and expressed concern that he did not see any positive benefits for the community. He stated that although Pharmacann intends on adding five new jobs, he had concerns regarding recreational marijuana use and the effects it potentially has on young people and possible addiction. He thought that the current Verilife location was appropriate because it was located across the street from the Village of North Aurora Police Station. He stated that the thought moving the Verilife facility to the new proposed location would be putting the community and children at risk.
Harold Thielman, 3S976 Deer Oaks Road, North Aurora stated that he lives in close proximity to the proposed Verilife location and doesn’t want it in his backyard. He agreed with Mr. Worth that the appropriate location for Verilife would be their current location. Thielman was concerned about the exposure to children in the area as well as the traffic the proposed facility would bring to the area. Mr. Thielman suggested that Pharmacann explore an alternative option for the facility further south on Orchard Road.
Chris Ilekis of Vequity, the developer of the project located at 2080 West Orchard Road, stated that the PUD was modified two years ago to expand the initial two parcels into four, currently two buildings were under construction and the site work was done for the remainder of the project. He expressed support for the Verilife facility and stated that without a lease in place, it would be difficult to complete the project.
Brianna Drexler, the General Manager of the current Verilife facility at 161 S. Lincolnway stated that she experienced more incidents in which police were called, while she worked in retail establishments more so than working for Verilife. She also expressed that in her discussions with Verilife clientele, she has found that many of them are medicating for some ailment. Drexler felt that perhaps an estimated 20% of clients were purchasing with recreational intentions.
Paige French, 694 Carlisle Court, Sugar Grove stated that she suffers from PTSD and that the access to medical cannabis has helped to keep her on track and with PTSD symptoms.
Joe Lenza, 523 Houston, Batavia stated that he works at the current Verilife facility. He believes that the new proposed location would allow employees to serve their clientele better.
Mayor Gaffino closed public comments.
TRUSTEE COMMENTS –
Trustee Lowery explained that he was a retired psychologist and has worked with substance abuse groups, he stated that he has never treated someone with substance abuse issues related to marijuana, and that there are many more problematic substances. Lowery stated that he arrived at the meeting with an open mind and willing to listen to all perspectives. He concluded that based on the audience comments, most residents’ opposition to the proposed dispensary location were based on speculative fear and concerns about what marijuana may do to their children. He also stated that he was not concerned about traffic issues. Lowery said that his concern lied with the standard “the proposed special use is deemed necessary for the public convenience at that location”, however is no longer concerned after hearing the argument that it doesn’t have to be absolutely necessary for the public but it will be a tremendous convenience for so many. He empathized with the residents that were concerned about their children and the potential exposure that having the dispensary located near their homes may cause, but cited the dispensary’s stringent regulation and security as safeguards against such exposure. Lowery expressed that as of that time, he was in favor of the new location.
Trustee Guethle stated that the half of a million dollars a year that the dispensary has raised in tax revenue for the Village was beneficial and supports infrastructure projects that benefit residents, this revenue could not easily be made up by replacing with other businesses.
Attorney Drendel added that in regard to the standards for special use, there is no one controlling standard, it is more of a balance between them all.
Trustee Niedzwiedz asked if there was a required buffer between residents and a dispensary. Director Toth stated that there was not. Niedzwiedz then asked the Pharmacann representatives about the seventeen additional sites they had looked at relocating to and why they had not chosen one of those. Mr. Unruh explained that often times within a retail development, an anchor store will have within their agreements a restrictive covenant that does not allow for cannabis businesses or no unlawful businesses. Unruh went on to explain further challenges in finding suitable locations, that fall within zoning restrictions, whose covenants allow for a dispensary. Monte Spiers gave the specific example of the North Aurora Towne Center who has stores that within their leases, would not allow for the dispensary to be located within the Towne Center. Speirs stated that was a common issue in finding a location. He said the only other viable location within North Aurora was at 255 Genesis Way, however the location did not provide a suitable accessibility for the dispensary’s needs.
Trustee Salazar stated that she had taken a tour of the facility, and was impressed with the level of security that was in place. Salazar compared the dispensary to a liquor store and suggested that there were more security practices in place at the dispensary than at a liquor store, stating that someone under the age of 21 can walk in to a liquor store, while someone under 21 could not make it past the front door ID check of the dispensary. She said that she believes that the dispensary serves a need in the community for people using for pain management. She stated that she thinks that Pharmacann has been a good partner to the Village thus far and was in favor of granting the special use.
Trustee Carroll stated that he was opposed to granting the special use. Carroll said that when he became a Trustee he agreed to uphold the Constitution of the United States and marijuana is an illegal drug and permitting the special use would be aiding and abetting the sales of an illegal substance. Carroll spoke about the income generated for Verilife by the sales of an illegal drug, he stated that allowing the special use to Pharmacann would be a violation of the Constitution of the United States of America and the Supremacy Clause.
Trustee Lowery, in response to Trustee Carroll stated that in the state of Illinois, cannabis is a legal drug and it was not made illegal in the Constitution. Lowery then spoke about the history of the legality of marijuana and the use and abuse of alcohol.
Trustee Carroll clarified his statement and said that in order to adhere to the Constitution, it needed to be recognized that federal law supersedes state law.
Trustee Guethle explained that the original idea behind allowing cannabis sales in North Aurora was to maintain some kind of control over the sales, and if Pharmacann decided to move to another municipality, North Aurora would lose that control. Guethle stated that he would prefer to see Pharmacann stay in North Aurora where the Village can maintain some control and take advantage of the tax revenue to benefit the Village and infrastructure projects.
Mayor Gaffino stated that he has been a resident of North Aurora for 60 years and currently live in the Tanner Trails subdivision. He explained that he does not think that the dispensary would be a hindrance at the proposed location. Gaffino referred to a safety concern mentioned at the Plan Commission meeting about children riding their bikes in the area around the proposed dispensary, he said that he had more concern about neighborhood children encountering an alcohol intoxicated driver in the area. Gaffino also stated that he did not believe traffic would be an issue, that the area was designed for traffic, including double turn lanes. Mayor Gaffino said that although not all decisions are based on money, it is expensive to maintain the Village and the dispensary is a good source of tax revenue. He stated that he would be comfortable with the dispensary in the proposed location.
Trustee Lowery, referring to Trustee Guethle’s previous comment about the ability to have some control over the sale of marijuana in the Village, stated that it was those same restricting factors that the Village has implemented that have led to the current proposed site selection. Lowery empathized with those that have expressed concern about the dispensary but stated that he believed that those concerns will not be realized.
Trustee Salazar stated that while this proposed special use does not meet all of the standards, it meets most of them and does keep with the commercial corridor. She also felt as though Pharmacann had addressed that concerns presented.
Trustee Carroll reiterated that marijuana was an illegal substance under federal law and anything else was irrelevant.
Mayor Gaffino allowed a question from a resident. Harold Thielman asked Chief DeLeo is there had been any marijuana related arrests. Chief DeLeo responded no.
2. Pedestrian Signal at Randall Road & Dogwood-Ritter
Administrator Bosco explained that several residents have expressed a safety concern for crossing Randall Road at Dogwood/Ritter. Bosco stated that since the project was unique in that it was not in conjunction with any road project and the estimates to complete the project were a substantial amount, the project has been brought before the Board for discussion.
Public Works Director John Laskowski stated that the closest pedestrian crossing from the Randall/Dogwood-Ritter intersection is located at Oak Street and Randall Road which is approximately a half of a mile away. The scope of the project would include pedestrian pedestals, walk/don’t walk signal and countdown on the traffic light, striping the intersection, removing and replacing some sidewalks for ADA accessibility, and possibly updating electric components in the light which would involve working with Kane County. Laskowski said that the total estimated cost of the project, including engineering, would be $105,941. If the Village hired a construction engineer prior to the construction of the project, the Village could potentially save $24,000 in construction supervision costs.
Trustee Salazar asked how often the crosswalk would be expected to be used, what was the demand. Laskowski stated that the number is unknown but could become an integral component in the pedestrian network in the Village.
Trustee Lowery stated that he had witnessed children at that intersection dashing across the street and he suggested that the safety of pedestrians outweighed the cost of the project.
Trustee Guethle said that he witnesses many people attempting to cross at that intersection.
Mayor Gaffino stated that the intersection is dangerous for pedestrians.
Administrator Bosco explained that Randall Road is wide and takes longer for pedestrians to cross, while traffic moves quickly on Randall.
Trustee Carroll stated he was in favor for the crosswalk and agreed with Trustee Lowery that safety outweighs the cost.
Administrator Bosco stated that it might be worthwhile to have staff identify additional similar situations with the Village.
Mayor Gaffino stated that it is important to keep the safety of pedestrians and accessibility in mind.
Trustee Niedzwiedz was in favor of the crosswalk.
Administrator Bosco stated that the hiring of a construction engineer would bring down the cost and he is hopeful that one will be hired soon.
3. Village Logo Use Policy
Administrator Bosco stated that the North Aurora Boy Scout troop was interested in using the Village’s logo on apparel. He said that no one had ever requested to use the Village’s logo prior to this, therefore staff contacted Village Attorney Kevin Drendel who suggested a policy needed to be established.
Bosco explained that the policy would set parameters for the use of the Village’s logo and the Village Board would approve the use on an individual basis.
Bosco stated that the policy was written as extending the opportunity to use the logo to “not-for-profits” but should perhaps be changed to the less limiting “community groups”.
Dave Weakman, 415 Bennett Drive, North Aurora was on hand to represent the Boy Scout troop requesting permission to use the Village logo. He explained that the logo would be used in apparel as well as a decal on the troop’s trailer. It would not be used to fundraise.
There was further discussion on what a not-for-profit was. Attorney Drendel clarified and stated that a non-profit is a business that is incorporated under the Illinois Non-Profit Corporation Act, they are not a business corporation, they are a non-profit. He explained that the non-profit status does not mean that the group does not generate income that they pay taxes on, it means that there are no profit that inure to the benefit of private individuals.
Trustee Salazar asked for clarification on whether or not the ability to grant permission to use the logo would lie with the Village Board. Administrator Bosco stated that yes, with the policy guidelines, by resolution. The logo must be presented to the Board in the way it would be utilized, along with a description of the intent. The logo could not be used for political purposes, or as an endorsement of the Village. The privilege to use the logo can also be revoked.
EXECUTIVE SESSION – None
Motion to adjourn made by Trustee Lowery and seconded by Trustee Niedzweidz. All in favor. Motion approved.